One party wins control of the House by winning certain competitive seats, and the other party wins it back by regaining, in large part, those same seats.
Starting this year, though, the deck is shuffled. Redistricting and the wave of retirements that often goes with it puts some previously safe seats into play and moves some swing seats into the safe column.
But just which seats are newly relevant?
For those who don't watch this stuff as closely as we do (and we know that’s like 99.99999 percent of people), we thought it worthwhile to highlight some of the districts that might be surprisingly competitive this year.
Below are districts that, through redistricting, recruiting or sheer happenstance, have worked their way onto our radar screen.
Not all of these are going to flip control — indeed, most probably won’t — but they’re all worth keeping an eye on in their own way.
As usual, we want to know what we missed and what you guys think was included erroneously. So take the comments section and let us know.
To the line!
10. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.): Coffman’s seat wasn’t supposed to be overhauled in redistricting – Democrats were instead focused on targeting freshman GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton – but then the state legislature deadlocked and left the issue to the courts. The result: Coffman got the short end of the stick. His sixth district moved from a district that would have gone 46 percent for President Obama in 2008 to one that would have gone 54 percent for Obama. He faces state Rep. Joe Mikloski in what is pretty much a swing district. The good news for Republicans is that Coffman is a fundraising machine, pulling in $530,000 in the first quarter.
9. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.): Kline’s redistricting fate was pretty similar to Coffman’s – the courts drew a surprising map, and he drew the short straw. His district now would have given Obama 50 percent of the vote, and the previously safe Kline is finding himself targeted. Democrats have recruited former state representative Mike Obermuller and put him in their “Red to Blue” program for emerging races.
8. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.): This blue Bay Area district has been reshaped to include more Republican inland territory. It’s still Democratic-leaning, but Republicans are making the case that Garamendi is too liberal for his new constituents. The National Republican Congressional Committee is already on the air hitting the former lieutenant governor and two-term state insurance commissioner, but Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann (R) will have to start raising bigger money than the $120,000 she raised in the first quarter.
7. Illinois’s 13th district (R): This one took on new life after Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) inexplicably announced his retirement from Congress a couple weeks AFTER his state’s primary. Johnson’s seat hasn’t been a hotbed of activity in recent years, but it became a swing district thanks to Democrats’ redistricting plan, and the longtime incumbent’s exit means it should be very competitive. Republican party leaders are still picking their nominee (one possibility: A former Miss America winner). Whoever it is will face Democratic physician David Gill.
6. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.): Few paid a bigger price in the citizen-controlled redistricting process than Capps, whose oddly shaped “Ribbon of Shame” district spanning 200 miles of the California coast was destined for overhaul. She still has a narrow advantage in what used to be a double-digit Democratic advantage district; the 24th is now split 38.5 percent Democrats to 35.5 percent Republicans. But as California goes, that’s pretty swingy. Former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado is a moderate Republican who could give Capps a run for her money. First he’ll have to overcome businessman Chris Mitchum (son of Robert Mitchum !) as well as some issues with the IRS.
5. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.): When former Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D) lost this seat in 2010, it seemed unlikely that a Democrat would ever hold this very conservative territory again. But Hartzler’s 4th district became a little bluer under redistricting, and last quarter she was outraised by her Democratic opponent, Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Hensley.
4. South Carolina’s 7th district: With the state adding a seventh seat thanks to population gains, South Carolina Republicans drew themselves a new district they could win. Maybe. GOP front-runner and then-state Rep. Thad Viers dropped out of the race after being charged with harassing a former girlfriend, and Democrats have recruited the kind of Democrat that might be able to win a conservative-leaning district in state Rep. Ted Vick (think businessman, hunter, soldier, pastor, farmer).
3. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.): Tierney’s potential vulnerability has a lot to do with his wife’s troubles. She served a month in jail in 2011 after pleading guilty to helping her brother conceal income from an offshore gambling enterprise. In addition, the state’s redistricting map made his district ever-so-slightly redder, and Republicans have landed a top recruit in former state senator Richard Tisei, who could make history by becoming the first openly gay Republican to win a seat in Congress as a non-incumbent. This is still a solidly Democratic seat, though, having given Obama 57 percent of the vote in 2008.
2. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.): An incumbent in a district that gave Obama 65 percent of the vote – and actually got MORE Democratic in redistricting – is not supposed to be vulnerable. But Cicilline is highly unpopular thanks to his performance as mayor of Providence prior to being sworn in to Congress in 2011 (he even apologized for it recently). He’s got both a primary challenger (Anthony Gemma, who finished second in the open 2010 primary) and a formidable general election opponent in former state police superintendent Brendan Doherty. The Cook Political Report lists this one as a toss-up, despite it being among the most Democratic seats in the country (D+15 Partisan Voting Index).
1. North Dakota at-large (R): Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R) opted to run for Senate just months after winning a seat long held by Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, and now Democrats appear to have a fighting chance to win it back. Presumptive Democratic nominee Pam Gulleson raised more than her two potential GOP opponents combined in the first quarter and appears to be running a very strong campaign. Meanwhile, the GOP was unable to avoid a contested primary, with state Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer pursuing a primary even after commission colleague Brian Kalk won the state party’s endorsement. This is still a conservative state, but she’s on the right path.